Wisconsin and A NEW ADVENTURE

So. Today in Slate, I take a look at what’s happening in Wisconsin. There is something in this article for everyone (to get pissed off at me about). For Republicans, a bunch of swipes at the GOP (it’s election season now, so the Schuman Claws are out when it comes to Republicans, now that they are a real threat again). For people who hate tenure, an explanation of why they are dumb to hate a fiction. For people who are tenured and like tenure, a suggestion that they may have to sacrifice themselves to save the whole. I predict exactly nobody is happy with this article! 

Which is great, since I wrote and edited it under extreme duress. For the last week and a half we have been packing up our condo to move. (We are taking my husband’s paternity leave elsewhere and then returning to St. Louis and moving locally to parts unknown.) We sold our condo, but two days before the closing date, we learned the buyer’s loan had been rejected. We managed to move the closing another few months, but shit man, it was stressful. Moving is already stressful, multiplied by uncertainty, to the exponential power of baby. 

But, we did it. We’re off. We will be on the road, with a baby, for three. Fucking. Days. If you are the praying type and aren’t too offended by either my article or that I just said “fuck,” please pray for us! If it works I promise to convert to your chosen religion. 

So far so good, and thanks for reading as always! 

10 thoughts on “Wisconsin and A NEW ADVENTURE

  1. Rebecca,

    It’s impossible to get really mad about anything you write since you always write it so well. And then to come here and see those XXL cheeks in that sleeping face. Too cute.

    Your last line is so very true: “What few tenured academics remain are handed just enough disproportionate power to maintain just enough acrimony that everybody is too busy being at each other’s throats to mind the store.” I don’t see, though, how some of us giving up our just- enough-disproportionate power will do anything but accelerate Walker’s dream of an army of temps who have to sign “right to life” oaths before being handed their limited contracts.

    How about those of us with tenure do something else that will be drastic but possibly more powerful? Refuse to create or hire into tenure-ineligible appointments. How about starting a petition? All tenured professors are asked to sign pledging that they will not be complicit with deprofessionalization and precarity. What will this mean? It will mean massive pressure on tenure-track faculty w/r/t to class size and courseload which, in turn, will mean a mad scramble to propose new tenure tracks (for comp. teaching, for example) and to bundle adjunct sections into full-time, tenure-track jobs. Money will be found where it wasn’t before (and where not enough is found, people will renegotiate the division of labor). People will be converted. Places that feel their ad hoc hiring amounted to a back-door politics will have to scramble to conduct open searches.

    Some people will respond to the invitation to sign such a petition by claiming that they’ll just get fired (in which case, I don’t think they had tenure in the first place) or demoted out of director or chair positions (in which case, so what? Put pressure on the next guy to refuse.) Some people will respond by saying that such a strategy is irresponsible — irresponsible to students who need classes, to the contingent faculty expecting appointments, to everybody. Maybe, but it’s also irresponsible to sit back and lose this war of attrition that is now a war of explicit aggression.

    Good luck on the road! I



  2. At Bennington several years ago, they talked the faculty into agreeing to eliminate tenure, then immediately fired all their asses. Untenured faculty are terrified to speak out on governance issues. Some universities keep things fairly loose until the tenure decision, others keep people on edge and spending weeks at a time on their tenure portfolios for years. Some have guidelines and follow them , some ignore them, some don’t have them. Life pretenure is terror, life after can be exhaustion and burnout. It’s all so fucked.


  3. Count me as another fan of the column in general, the last paragraph in particular, and especially the final sentence. As a full-time contingent faculty member on a multi-year renewable contract, I’d still prefer to see a return to a much higher percentage of tenured faculty, including a (well and fairly structured, equally compensated — I know; hah!) tenured teaching track in research universities, but, assuming that is pie in the sky, I, too, think we would be better off moving ahead to a no-tenure system (for administrators as well, of course; if you strike out as dean or provost or president, there would be no option of slinking back to the tenured ranks and quietly teaching out the time to retirement; somehow, even though it’s relatively little exercised, I’d guess that the elimination of that option is one of the reasons tenure for the few will endure), and fighting for the best one we can get. If that system included a real option to move back and forth between employment in the academy and employment in the private or government sectors over the course of a career, all the better. If nothing else, you’d have people going to grad school with much more realistic plans (and better options), and you’d eliminate a major incentive for people to work as adjuncts. The present system includes perverse incentives of the same kind that have all too many Americans (nearly all of whom are Republicans) getting up in arms about the “death tax” and other economic policies that affect only the very rich, apparently because they hope that someday they might be rich enough to be affected by those policies. While I support tenure in principle (mostly so there’s somebody who feels free to speak up *within* the academy), in practice, when 70% of the professoriate is untenured and untenurable, and programs are being cut, “restructured,” replaced/recreated, etc., etc. at will, tenure *may* be protecting a few individual, but it’s no longer serving as a structural element that shapes the academy in useful ways.


  4. Forgive me for being late to this party, but I have been traveling and haven’t had a chance to read for pleasure or, especially, write…. Ed School Subversive commented on June 17 that “At Bennington several years ago, they talked the faculty into agreeing to eliminate tenure, then immediately fired all their asses.” I wanted to offer a couple of quick corrections. First, Bennington College never offered tenure. The College offered renewable 5 year contracts, and since they were almost always renewed, it was called “presumptive tenure.” Second, the event that Ed School probably alludes to was the 1994 “Symposium” changes, after which one-third of the faculty were terminated, not “all” faculty. (I wonder if Ed School is my generation: as retirement looms, 20 years ago often seems like ‘several years ago’!) One possible lesson is that renewable contracts do not offer the same protections as what is usually called “unlimited tenure,” and I would not trust capricious administrators to evaluate contract faculty fairly every five years. I think Bennington illustrates the point that Ed School wants to make, but perhaps for different reasons: it was not the elimination of tenure that led to the bloodbath, but administrative changes that could take advantage of Bennington’s long-standing lack of real tenure.


      • After four months of painstakingly taking the time to carefully twist them back, adrenaline rushing as I’m realizing the sleeping infant before me will wake up at any second and instantly voice his legitimate disapproval of being restrained, I finally figured it out yesterday.

        It’s easiest if they’re not in the seat, but if you just hold the strap, twisting it the direction you need it to go, and move the buckle up and down as you continue twisting the strap. Once you do that, it is no longer a mystery as to how they get twisted in the first place because it’s ridiculously fucking easy.


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